student awards

North Carolina Poetry Society’s wonderful Student Contests Director, Arianna Del Palazzo, has been hard at work organizing the contests for students from grade 3 and up. The winning poems will published alongside our adult winners in the Pinesong awards anthology. The student poets will also be invited to read their work at Awards Day.

Here is Arianna’s announcement of the winners:

The Student Contest submissions came to a close on February 1st, 2020 with over 500 submissions! So many talented poets submitted their work. Our 4 judges certainly had a difficult task at hand. 

It is with much excitement and pride we announce this years NC Student Poetry Contest Winners! 

Sherry Pruitt Award

First place: bao
Emily Yang
Second Place: Ambiance
LauraLee Hurst
Third Place: Insignificant Ant
Charles Canady
Honorable Mention: Sour Sayings
Baker Sanders
Honorable Mention: Away
Matilda Ziegler
Honorable Mention: Winter is Approaching
Nathan Creech

Joan Scott Memorial Award

First Place: If You Stayed in Cabin Six
Gray Fickling
Second Place: I Want to Be There
Anna Berens
Third Place: Storms
Delaney Osborne
Honorable Mentions: Lighting
Raya Robertson
Honorable Mention: Hopeful Beginning
Sanjana Solanki
Honorable Mention: The Earth and Us
Megan Perry

Travis Tuck Jordan Award

First Place: The Round Soccer Ball
Principe Nzayiramya
Second Place: Clyde
Gray Fickling
Third Place: The State Fair
Hailey Williams
Honorable Mention: Sea Creatures
Muna Uchendu
Honorable Mention: Mythical Creatures
Olivia Smith
Honorable Mention: A Day in the Life of a Frog
Alexandra Leszczuk

Mary Chilton Award

First Place: Ode To My Violin
Nadya Kotlyarevska
Second Place: Sensitive
Lela Ward
Third Place: Flood Prison
Avery Anderson
Honorable Mention: Stars Shine Brightly
Kenna Zhang
Honorable Mention: Eggs
Alex Pomeloy
Honorable Mention: Being Aware
Katherine Lyons

A huge thanks to all the teachers who took the time to submit multiple student poems. Without their willingness to participate, contests like this would not be possible! 

awards announcement!

It’s that time! Our 12 judges have made their selections for the North Carolina Poetry Society Pinesong Awards for 2020. Many of them pointed out that the process was both challenging and rewarding given the high quality of the submissions. North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green wrote, “It is both delightful and inspiring to read the breadth of literary genius that we have in our State.”

A total of 654 qualified entries from 163 poets were reviewed by the judges. From those 42 poems by 33 poets were given first, second, or honorable mention awards and will be published in the Pinesong anthology. Nine other poems were declared finalists in the Poet Laureate contest.

The winning poems were highly praised by the judges, particularly for their authenticity and command of language. Michael Rothenberg spoke of poems that hit him hard and fast with “a clarity I find appealing.” Julia Beach recognized the use of images and “how they called to each other from each stanza, and how they remained in a constant state of transformation within the poem.” Bloodroot judge, Julie Warther, described the winning haiku as “crystalline moments.” Amelia Martens mentioned “thoughtful line breaks, where the poem uses white space to expand or suspend a thought on the page.” Dr. Marcia L. Hurlow responded to language that was “ musical and precise without calling undue attention to itself.”

For myself, this has been a labor of love, and I am proud to present your Pinesong Awards for 2020:

Poet Laureate Award
Preliminary Judge Michael Rothenberg

Final selection by Jaki Shelton Green

Elegy for Joe by Joyce Brown

Frank O’Hara Gets Dirty in Bull City by Hugh Findlay
My Father and I Have Nightmares by Janet Ford
River in Your Living Room by Jeanne Julian
Arachnidaea by Stephen C. Pollock
Thematic Variations on GFCBA by Connie Ralston
The 4th pillow by Erica Rothman
Margie Skips a Grade by Maria Rouphail
Corresponding with Richard Wilbur by Melinda Thomsen
Watching the Watcher by Christina Xiong

Alice Osborn Award (poems written for children)
Judge Carolyn Guinzio

First Place:
In the Attic by Edward Garvey
Second Place:
Baby Bird in the Daisies by Arlene Mandell
Honorable Mention:
Playing in the Garden by Joyce Brown
That Time I Sat on Arhtur Dellenger’s Tractor by Les Brown
Camels for Two by Martin Settle

Carol Bessent Hayman Poetry of Love Award
Judge Dr. Marcia L. Hurlow

First Place:
My Father Listened by Jo Ann Hoffman
Second Place:
Blondie’s Howl by Kathy Ackerman
Honorable Mention:
Backstory for the Beautiful Abandoned by Laura Alderson
At Play by Patricia Deaton
The best courage is against all odds. by Mary Hennessy

Joanna Catherine Scott Award(sonnet or other traditional form)
Judge Pamela Johnson Parker

First Place:
In My Defense by Barbara Blanks
Second Place:
The Sun’s Uprising by Melinda Thomsen
Honorable Mention:
What the Famous Writer Said by Kenneth Chamlee
Separate Ways by Ron Lavalette
Nasal Biopsy by Stephen C Pollock

Katherine Kennedy McIntyre Light Verse Award
Judge Jeff Worley

First Place:
Ruse de Cezanne by Nick Sweet
Second Place:
Goodbye and Keep Chilled by Jeanne Julian
Honorable Mention:
Generations by Jo Ann Hoffman
Husbandry by JeanMarie Olivieri
The Worship of Dog by Martin Settle

Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage Award (heritage, sibling-hood, or nature themed)
Judge Sarah McCartt-Jackson

First Place:
A Fall Language by Benjamin Cutler
Second Place:
Kinship by Andrew Taylor-Troutman
Honorable Mention:
Deep Stony by Lucia Walton Robinson

Poetry of Courage Award
Judge Amelia Martens

First Place:
Nam, Man by Hugh Findlay
Second Place:
Waiting for Results by Kathy Ackerman
Honorable Mention:
Please Stand by Kenneth Chamlee
My Mother Quits Smoking by Eric Weil
A Day Different by Glenna D. Wolfe

Poetry of Witness Award (contemporary events or issues)
Judge Brendan Walsh

First Place:
Disposable Rant by Kathy Ackerman
Second Place:
Junkyard Gives up Secret Accounts of Massacre in Iraq by Paloma A Capanna

Bloodroot Haiku Award
Judge Julie Warther

First Place:
empty begging bowl by kj munro
Second Place:
death watch – by Carole MacRury
Honorable Mention:
sun rising by Ed Bremson
crickets at dusk by Glenn Coats
scent of pine by Tracy Davidson

Ruth Morris Moose Sestina Award
Judge Julia Beach

First Place:
Starbucks Sestina by Mary O’Keefe Brady
Second Place:
Where Bluebirds Fly by Tracy Davidson
Honorable Mention:
Competitors by Lee Ann Gillen
Naughty Cocklebur, Artful Iris by Robert Keeler

Thomas H. McDill Award
Judge Adam Day

First Place:
Remnants by Martin Settle
Second Place:
Steve’s Balloons by Stephen C Pollock

fantastical magical notebooks

Happy New Year, poets! It’s hard to believe it, but we are one week away from the Pinesong Awards submission deadline.

Between researching and writing this blog, processing entries, and keeping up with the North Carolina Poetry Society board of directors, I have logged more computer time than ever over the last few months. This has given me a new appreciation for all the benefits that technology offers us poets.

I will go as far as to say if you have a smartphone, you have a fantastical magical notebook that would have thrilled and amazed any poet from a previous era.

How much do you use your phone in service of your poetry? Here are three ideas for making the most of it:

  • Get a poetry app and use it daily. A poetry app on your phone gives you free and easy access to poems that can inspire and educate. Any time during the day, when your thoughts turn to poetry, you can get in a quick read. The Haiku Foundation has a nice one that pulls up a new haiku with a flick of your wrist. Just like magic! The Poetry Foundation app will send a poem a day to your notifications. It also has a fascinating spin feature that randomly combines a state of mind (for example nostalgia, humor, or boredom) with a subject (for example nature, celebrations, or youth) and then produces a list of poems with those attributes.
  • Write a texting poem with a friend. A cool way to collaborate! Recruit a poet-friend and trade off writing the lines of a poem by texting each other. Challenge each other to reach new heights!
  • Put your phone accessories to good use. Your phone contains a slew of tools that can enhance your poetry writing. Consider the following:
    • Set a daily reminder on your phone that tells you to take a ten minute break to think about poetry.
    • Take a random photo during the day, then use the image to write a poem that night.
    • Use your phone’s audio recorder to record one of your poems. Play it to yourself at random times throughout the day and see how your experience of the poem changes.

In short, have fun with your phone and your poetry!

And don’t forget to send your Pinesong entries by January 12.

from NC to NYC

The 2019 edition of Pinesong is heading to the Big Apple.

Poets House, a national poetry library and literary center, has added the 55th Volume of the North Carolina Poetry Society’s awards anthology to its collection of over 70,000 poetry books.

In addition to its inclusion in the collection, Pinesong 2019 will be on exhibit this summer as part of the 2020 Poets House Showcase. This annual event started in 1992 with a display of 800 works. It now includes over 3,000 volumes, broadsides, anthologies and poetry related texts. More than 800 commercial publishers, university presses, and small presses from across the country are represented in this inclusive exhibit.

Learn more about this cornucopia of American poetry here.

let loose your voice

How’s your poetic voice doing? Is it clear and strong? Or is it meek and in need of an ego boost?

Perhaps it’s a little tired. Fallen into a repetitive pattern that no longer intrigues as it once did.

If your voice could use polishing, I recommend a contest submission to motivate you to apply the elbow grease.

Why a contest? Because taking your poetic voice to a new level requires that you take risks and contests are ideal for risk taking. Here’s three reasons why:

  1. Contests are exciting. A group of writers vying for the attention of a renowned poet, how could that not be an adventure? Let the inherent excitement of the competitive atmosphere inspire you to great poetic feats!
  2. You’ll be anonymous. The judge will read your poetry and won’t have a clue as to who you are. You have no expectations to meet and you’re free from what you’ve written in the past. Ever want to try on a new persona? Now’s your chance.
  3. You’ll want to stand out from the crowd. In order to win a contest your submission is going to have to rise above everyone else’s. Many of your competitors are going to send work that is solid, but safe. If you take risks, your work may stand out and catch the judge’s eye.

Fun is a fuel that can boost you to higher levels of creativity. So have some fun with your contest entries and revitalize your poetic voice!

For further thoughts on voice, check out this article in The Atlantic.

five added benefits

Why should you enter a poetry contest?

If you’re answer is “to win a prize,” you may be selling the experience short.

Winning a prize is great but if you want to get the maximum benefit out of entering a contest, ask yourself how it can enhance your writing. Consider these five approaches:

  1. Finish new work. If your writing hasn’t been as productive as you’d like, choose a contest and commit to submitting a new poem. Nothing inspires quite like a deadline.
  2. Expand your writing to new areas. If you want to re-energize your writing, choose a contest that’s outside your comfort zone. Creativity thrives on challenge.
  3. Read more poetry. Have you been feeding your muse lately? None of us write in a vacuum and knowledge of what our contemporaries are up to is essential to writing substantial work. When entering contests make it a point to read poems by the former winners and the current judges.
  4. Ask for a critique. When was the last time you sought feedback for your work? Before you submit to your next contest, ask someone you trust and respect to critique your entry. You’ll get meaningful interaction with another human being, and maybe some improvements to your poetry.
  5. Dig up some old work and breathe new life into it. Most contests allow for simultaneous submissions, but that doesn’t mean you have to send the same handful of poems to every contest. Why not take the opportunity to revisit and revise some work from your past? Poems that have lain dormant for a few years can sparkle when they are lovingly reworked.

Expand your view of contest entering further with these two links:

traditional challenge

Hello there, poet. Since you are reading this, I’d like to propose a challenge: write something in a traditional poetic form that is new to you and submit it to the Joanna Catherine Scott Award.

Why should you accept this challenge? For one thing, writing in a traditional form is wonderful practice for writing in any form whatsoever. Working within the strictures of a form hones your facility for language. It strengthens your technique. (Rebecca Hazelton has a nice piece about this on the Poetry Foundation website. You can find it here.)

For another, traditional forms contests typically attract fewer entries than open or themed contests. The odds of your poem winning a prize are therefore increased.

Personally, however, I have a grander reason. I want us all to write the very best poetry we can. In order to do that, I believe we must engage all of our being. The creative, visionary side, yes, but the pragmatic, realistic side also.

The side of you that knows how to organize your sock drawer deserves a say in your poetry.

The thing is, that side gets bored easily and tends to wander off. Give it a fresh technical challenge, however, and it will light up like a Christmas Tree. So why not use this contest to give it a jolt?

If you need some guidance to get you started, the Academy of American Poets has a solid glossary of poetic terms on their website. Also, Robert Lee Brewer has a list of 100 poetic forms, with links to more information, available on the Writer’s Digest website.

As I wrote in my post about sestinas, I wouldn’t feel right about challenging you to write something without taking on the challenge myself, so I decided to try my hand at a triolet.

My current focus is on haiku, so the brevity needed for the triolet came naturally. Direct observation worked well also. However, rhyming is avoided in haiku, which made working out the rhymes an interesting challenge.

One thing I read about triolets suggested they were witty and perfect for sending with flowers or chocolates, so my inner contrarian wanted something with a touch of grimness.

Here is my traditional effort, good luck with yours!

one more day till winter

pine grove in a city park
one trunk lit by the setting sun
something stashed for when it gets dark
pine grove in a city park
unanswered prayers leave their mark
as do dreams made undone
pine grove in a city park
one trunk lit by the setting sun

something about sestinas

So, I decided I should write a sestina. I figured if I was going to ask other poets to extend themselves and write something in a form they hadn’t utilized before (and, yes, I am asking you to do that), I should be willing to do the same.

Sestinas have a complex structure, and yet writing one isn’t as difficult as it may seem, because the choices that all poets face when constructing a poem are limited by the sestina’s demands.

Starting along the path of constructing a sestina, you know you are going to need six words that you will use repetitively. They have to be words that you won’t grow tired of and that will express a variety of ideas.

This is where the simplicity within the complexity of creating a sestina comes through. To start, simply choose six words. Just make sure they’re good, serviceable, versatile words.

It’s helpful to decide on a theme while you are picking your words. That’s what I did when I started my sestina. I decided my theme would be a bird feeder. I bought a new feeder recently and have been stocking up on seed for the approaching winter, so it seemed a timely choice.

After choosing this theme, I took a walk around my neighborhood. The sensations of autumn mixed with my memories of bird feeders and words began to present themselves. I recorded several of them on my phone.

Once I got home, I set up a template for my sestina – as suggested in the “What is a Sestina” YouTube video, listed below – and started inserting the words I thought would work best.

Here is what that looked like for the first two stanzas:

Then, I began writing lines that would fit with the end words. This is what I started with:

When I hit line six, I got stumped. Although life seemed like a good word at first, I simply couldn’t come up with a line that worked well with it. So I let it go, and decided on a different word. That choice led to adjusting previous lines, until I had this:

My choice of a different sixth word for stanza one seemed a good one, so I proceeded to stanza 2, which came together rather quickly:

Two stanzas down, and I was happy with what I had. Knowing what the end words would be for the rest of the poem limited what I could do from this point, which I found oddly comforting. Limited choices meant I could concentrate on making each line read well and making them fit my personal writing style.

My completed sestina is below, but before we get there, let me share some insights I had about working with this form:

  • Using such a highly structured form can actually feel liberating. Many decisions are made for you so you can concentrate on the overall effect instead of worrying about how to structure your poem.
  • Although the stanza structure and the last word of each line are predetermined, it’s easy to inject your own sense of rhythm into a sestina, thus personalizing it.
  • If you are faced with writer’s block, or have an idea for a poem that hasn’t worked yet, a formalized structure like sestina can offer a fresh way to approach your work.

I relied on several online resources to help guide my sestina efforts, these were the most useful for me:

Please consider writing your own sestina and submitting it to the Ruth Morris Moose Sestina Award by January 12.

Here is my completed poem:

A Winter Feeder

What first draws me in is black
eyes shining out from the cardinal,
who gives nothing away to the cold.
So I watch the flock dig for seed
through flying snow and then scatter
as if something with fangs is about.

On the table, a book that tells about
identifying the purple finch and black
capped chickadee. But how they scatter
food they dislike, the way the cardinal
drops its crest in anger when the seed
hungry sparrows fly in from the cold:

I see these things for myself, with the cold
slickness of the window-pane about
an inch from my face. I let the birds seed
my mind with the drama of their black
and white efforts to survive. The cardinal
rule to stay alert and ready to scatter

the flock if a shadow falls on the scatter
of birdseed that roughens the cold
ground scratched free of snow. Cardinal,
siskin, titmouse, blue jay, flitting about
the feeder, kicking aside millet to get black
sunflower seeds, this serving to seed

the snow with doves pecking the seed
from the ground among a scatter
of sparrows and glistening black
starlings. The book doesn’t leave me cold,
however, for their is much about
it that intrigues: a map of the cardinal

directions from which the cardinal
spreads across the land; what seed
each type of bird prefers; all about
the colors of their eggs. I scatter
the pages wide to fight off the cold
with facts until the sky turns black.

Nothing left of the cardinal but a scatter
of feathers that seed my heart with cold.
Now I know that that black cat is about.

5 tips from the director

We have roughly seven weeks left in the submission period for our 2020 contests. Poems are starting to roll in nicely, and I think the time is right for some tips.

  1. Double check your line count: every contest has a line limit. Read the rules carefully to see the limit for each contest. Submissions that exceed the limits will be disqualified. The limits include blank lines, so make sure you count them.
  2. Make sure your poem is a good fit with the contest you’re submitting to: a good poem won’t win if it’s not appropriate for that particular contest. So make sure that your light verse entry is light, that your haiku entry is a haiku, that your witness entry addresses contemporary events, etc.
  3. Try a haiku, sestina, sonnet or other traditional form submission: three of our contests are for particular forms. Historically they receive fewer entries than the other contests. Your odds of winning are improved if you write and submit a good poem in these forms.
  4. You don’t have to submit everything at the same time: each of the 11 contests operates independently. You can submit one poem to each contest and you can spread your submissions out if you wish. So if you submit to some contests, then write something appropriate for a different one, send it on in.
  5. If you have a question, leave a comment: if you have a question it’s likely others share it. Pose your question as a comment in any of the blog posts and I will answer it for the benefit of all.

approaching haiku

Haiku is commonly described as a nature poem in three lines with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second line, and 5 in the third line. This definition is at best old-fashioned and at worst erroneous.

The reality of haiku today is much more complicated. It is a powerful discipline that is ripe with the potential to engage with the world in new ways.

In my explorations of English language haiku, I have found the following approaches to be useful for substantive writing and the proper mindset:

  • use no titles (haiku are identified by their first line)
  • write in present tense
  • show, don’t tell
  • the 5-7-5 syllable structure has largely fallen out of fashion in favor of haiku with fewer than 17 syllables
  • use simple, everyday language
  • three lines is most common, but one, two, and four lines are also acceptable
  • avoid end rhymes
  • haiku experiences will arise from your surroundings, stay alert!
  • write directly, so that your readers can easily imagine themselves having the experience you’ve captured
  • let things be as they are, elaboration is unnecessary
  • don’t proselytize
  • present an experience for the reader to interpret
  • use a phrase and a fragment that juxtapose each other
  • see the universal connections in common, everyday experiences
  • name or imply a season
  • honor small, simple things
  • as much as possible, keep your ego out of it

For further exploration, visit The Haiku Foundation at:

The following online journals display a wide range of the expressions contemporary haiku is capable of:

For a lively audio exploration of haiku, listen to the Poetry Pea Podcast: